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Activism Through Theatre

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    Natalie Goodnow performs her solo play "Mud Offerings." (photo by Alberto Jimenez)

2007 graduate uses theatre to ask tough questions about social issues and self-identity

From humble beginnings doing childhood renditions of “Peter Pan,” 2007 graduate Natalie Goodnow has garnered national attention for her work in the theatre.

Most recently, Goodnow was honored as the 2011 winner of the Jane Chambers Playwriting Contest for her solo play, “Mud Offerings.” This national award recognizes excellence in feminist plays and performance texts created by women writers. “Mud Offerings” interrogates Mexican mythology and iconography. Goodnow’s character is a Chicana who questions both La Virgen de Guadelupe and the alleged betrayal of La Malinche, a Mexican woman who served as Hernan Cortés’ translator and consort. Goodnow said that one of the questions the play is meant to ask is “What is betrayal?”

 “The goal in both my teaching and performance is not to tell people what to think or do but to ask big questions,” Goodnow said. “I like to take opposing ideas and mash them up against each other.” In many of her performances, the audience is pushed to think about questions on topics that people may typically stay silent on: “How are we going to change things?” “How do we think about women?” “How do we think about people of color?” All her plays are written from positions of a Chicana and a feminist.

Goodnow, however, was not always as vocal as she is now. She describes herself as being shy and timid while she was a child. But her parents soon discovered that the space where she broke out of her shell was on the stage. When asked about how she was different on stage vs. off stage, she said, “I was loud! Big energy! Spunk! I liked spaces where I could be spunky!” It was through theatre that she found community where she could grow and find camaraderie. Her best friend was a fellow actress during her first play in a rendition of “Peter Pan.”

It was while attending Southwestern that Goodnow found herself becoming more politicized. After learning about the deep and vast inequalities and injustices that exist in the world through her feminist studies courses, she began asking the question “What is theatre doing to change the world?” She discussed how she found many plays to be reinforcing stereotypes and the thought processes that only help to continue the cycles of injustice. It was then that she began to discover how she could combine education, the arts and activism to start producing the pieces she wanted to in order to question the status quo. “I didn’t give up on theatre. I emerged convinced that theatre can and does make a difference,” Goodnow said.

Goodnow graduated from Southwestern with a major in theatre and minors in Spanish and feminist studies. She is now an artistic associate of Theatre Action Project in Austin, which uses the creative arts to activate the academic, social and emotional development of young people. She also is a member of The Austin Project, an ensemble of women of color (and allies) artists, activists and scholars who engage in an art-based process for social change that engages the primary principles of the Jazz Aesthetic: rigorous honesty, presence, virtuosity and community accountability. 

Goodnow has won several local awards for “Mud Offerings,” such as “Best of the Fest” in Frontera Fest Short Fringe 2011. She will perform the play at Southwestern on Tuesday, April 3, at 5:30 p.m. in Heather Hall. The performance is free and open to the public. There will be a question and answer period following the performance.

Goodnow also will appear in a performance reading of “Digging Up the Dirt” by Cherrie Moraga at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center in Austin  on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 2 p.m..

For more on Goodnow, her work and upcoming performances, visit her website, www.nataliegoodnow.com, or her blog, http://makinggoodnow.blogspot.com.

−       Isaac Bernal